Goodbye, Smokin' Joe
I've always had ambivalent feelings about boxing. It's violence, pure and simple. But maybe partly because of that, I have always been fascinated by it, too. I followed boxing at one time, and Joe Frazier was one reason I did, and the news that Joe Frazier has died is sad news, to me.
Around the time I graduated high school, 1971, and for a few years after that, four of the best heavyweight fighters of all time were active. Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Ken Norton and George Foreman, and they all just kept fighting each other.
Some of those fights were televised but most were broadcast only over what they called "closed circuit" TV. I attended some of those closed circuit fights. I had to drive 45 miles from my home town of New Buffalo, MI, to South Bend, IN. The fights were shown on a movie screen at he old art deco theater, the Morris Auditorium.
It was nominally no smoking, but as soon as the lights went down the place filled up with cigar smoke. When the fight began there was as much excitement and hollering and jumping up and yelling as if you were at a live event.
That's how I remember Joe Frazier, in the middle of all that excitement, as a participant in some of the greatest fights of all time, during what I think is the greatest era in boxing of all time. Joe Frazier didn't have the athletic ability of Ali or the reach of Norton or the strength of Foreman. He just kept coming at you, head down, punching. He was quiet and steadfast and determined, in the ring and out of it. Rest in peace, Smokin' Joe.